Dierks Bentley steps out of comfort zone with collaborative, acclaimed album 

Dierks Bentley hit the country music scene in 2003 with his debut, "What Was I Thinkin'," which scored the Phoenix native an immediate fan base worldwide, as well as his first No. 1 single. Six more No. 1s soon followed, including "Lot of Leavin' Left to Do," "Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)" and "Every Mile a Memory."

His current single, "I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes," is the third release off his latest album, February's "Feel That Fire," his most critically acclaimed work yet. With the 12-track disc, Bentley ventured out of his comfort zone by collaborating with iconic songwriters like Rodney Crowell, Rivers Rutherford, Radney Foster, Jim Lauderdale and The Warren Brothers.

"I don't know how we're going to top this one," Bentley said. "A lot of time went into making this thing because I wanted this to be our best piece of work. I didn't know how to get there, but I knew that we just had to try and put a lot of time into it."

The album's first two singles " "Feel That Fire" and "Sideways" " became back-to-back, multiweek No. 1 hits for Bentley, helping push the singer's album sales to 71,000 units its first week out. Beyond topping the country albums chart, "Feel That Fire" crossed over and netted Bentley a No. 3 slot on the all-genre Billboard Top 200 chart.

"The ultimate goal with the record was just to make something that was fun. I wanted the regular person to grab the CD and put it in their car and go, 'Wow, that's a really fun record,'" Bentley said. "Later, they can go through and hear more of the depth in a song like 'Pray,' that might help them through a hard time, or 'Beautiful World' to help inspire somebody, or 'Better Believer,' which is a song for spiritual strength." 

Bentley, who will perform 8 p.m. Thursday at the Riverwind Casino in Norman, has a reputation as one of country music's most prolific touring artists. That makes his time away from home and his family " wife Cassidy and infant daughter Evie " exceptionally hard.

"Obviously, being on the road and having Evie home is tough. I love being out here, but I always miss the girls and look forward to getting back to see them when I get home," he said. "Everyday with Evie, there's a major development, whether it's a new sound she is making or a new thing she is doing with her hands. Everyday there is something new going on, so I hate missing all of that.

"It's nice to have the technology we have today with Skype and iCameras. That really helps out a lot."

Dierks Bentley performs at 8 p.m. Thursday at Riverwind Casino, 1544 W. State Highway 9 in Norman. "Alanna Conaway

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Alanna Conaway

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